I have just been out for a blustery and wet but wonderful walk on Dogs Bay and Gurteen beach with my husband and three children. We walked to the edge of the headland to watch the waves crash in on the rocks. We stood for a while taking it all in, watching the sky, watching the sea, feeling the wind until our hands were beginning to numb and the chill set in. The thought of a nice hot bowl of chowder and some brown bread kept us going the whole way back as little legs were beginning to ache.
We piled into the car, heat on full blast, and drove to Roundstone to seek refuge – fireside, in the pub – and order our seafood chowder.
A good seafood chowder seems to be an absolute favourite of both locals and visitors when eating out. It is not a particularly difficult dish to make and is the perfect seaside comfort food. I imagine a trip to Connemara is rarely thought of without conjuring up the image of a long hike in the mountains or a swim in the cold sea followed by a pint of Guinness, a bowl of steaming chowder and some brown bread by a warm turf fire.
What I find most intriguing is that chowder is not something that is made or eaten in most homes. Rather, it is something we eat in pubs or restaurants.
Do we feel it is undeserved without a bracing experience of some kind? Or is it just one of those things you associate with a cosy pub and don’t feel the need to partake in at home?
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the food and traditions of cooking in Connemara and I would really love readers to email me with special food they associate with Connemara; old but almost forgotten dishes or ingredients that are used here that we may not all be aware of.
Like the story Jack Mulkeirns once told me of the Christmas Salmon, a salmon that was preserved in the bog and eaten at Christmas time. Possibly a lamb dish that your grandmother prepared or some way the older folks would have eaten, or collected seaweed or scallops.
Has anyone around here ever made butter from sheep’s milk? Does anyone make a home style cheese we don’t know about?
I would really appreciate hearing your stories – you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For now, try a little chowder making of your own at home.
Mussel and Smoked
Ingredients for mussels:
100mls white wine
50g onions diced
3 cloves garlic chopped
Ingredients for chowder base
300g undyed smoked haddock
1 bay leaf
2 star anise (optional, a tiny splash of
pernod does the trick too)
50g/1 small onion chopped finely
80g/1 carrot finely diced
100g of fennel diced
150g/2 medium potatoes cubed
2tbsp all purpose flour
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Optional: a dash of cream to finish off and enrich the chowder
To cook the mussels: Heat a medium sized pot (big enough to fit the mussels with plenty of room to mix), add some oil and then the onions and garlic on a low heat and allow to sweat.
When the onions and garlic have softened, turn up the heat and add the mussels along with the white wine.
Give it a good stir and cover with a lid.
Allow the mussels to steam for about
3-5 minutes, stirring well half way through. When the mussels have opened they are cooked.
If a few have remained closed, discard them as they are not good to eat.
Remove the mussels, set aside and save the juice.
For the chowder: Put the milk in a wide saucepan with a lid and bring to a simmer with some peppercorns and bay leaf.
Add the chunks of smoked haddock,
remove the pot from the heat and allow the haddock to sit in the milk for
3-4 minutes. Remove the haddock with a slotted spoon.
Set the milk aside for later and discard the peppercorns and bay leaf.
Put another large pot on the heat and add the butter to melt.
Add chopped onion and allow to soften but not brown.
Add the finely diced carrots and fennel, toss around in the butter and finally add the potatoes and mix all ingredients in the pot. Put a lid on the pot and set
aside for five minutes or so to soften the vegetables.
Meanwhile, reheat the milk.
Return the pot to a low heat and dust the vegetables with the flour, mixing well.
Then add the milk to the vegetables, little by little, whisking as you do so. Keep whisking until the milk has thickened.
Then add the mussel juices to the milk and vegetables.
Allow to simmer very gently, while stirring until the vegetables are cooked.
If the mixture seems too thick, add
another dash of milk.
Finally, remove most of the mussels from the shells and divide them and the smoked haddock between 4-6 bowls, with the chunks of smoked haddock.
Then ladle in the chowder and use a few mussels in their shells on top with a sprinkle of flat leaf parsley.
Serve with brown bread.